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Refusing To Talk About It

October 29, 2010

Bishop John Shelby Spong, the retired former Diocesan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, has never been known for watering down his sentiments. In the past, he’s published books with the titles, Why Christianity Must Change or Die as well as Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism.

And now Bishop Spong has published an essay in which he registers his unambiguous support for the full inclusion of gay men and women in the life of the Christian church by stating, “I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility.”

While I agree with his desire to fully include gay people in the church, and while I sympathize with (and even share some of) his frustration and anger over why so many Christians believe gay people should be looked down upon as sinful and lesser than those of us sexually attracted to the opposite sex, I cannot go along with his refusal to discuss the issue with those with whom he disagrees. I find that really problematic.

Personally, it is part of my reading of the Gospels that Jesus participates in conversations with anyone and everyone, no matter how much they do not “get it.” Indeed, Jesus made a point of entering Jerusalem where he knew he would inevitably confront the religious and political authorities who disagreed with him and his message most of all. And he knew that that confrontation, that interaction with those who disagreed with him most would lead to his death. But he whole-heartedly entered into it anyway.

So I cannot go along with Bishop Spong’s stated decision not to engage with someone who disagrees with him on this or any issue.

As Christians, I think we are called by God to discuss, argue, have it out (and so on) with anyone and everyone, no matter how reprehensible we think their views are. We may not change their minds, and we may not have our minds changed (though sometimes either or both of those changes of mind–and heart–may occur), but I don’t think that’s the point of talking with someone in the first place. Conversation is a glorious thing in and of itself–even, or perhaps especially, with someone who differs from us. It helps us to recognize each other’s humanity and enables us to more fully love one another regardless of whether we agree on everything.

I was out in California while the war in Iraq was ramping up and I saw a lot of a certain bumper sticker that was popular among us liberal seminarians in Berkeley. It read: “When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ he probably meant don’t kill them.” Similarly, I would say to Bishop Spong, “When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ he probably meant listen to them and keep talking with them.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. C.A. Child permalink
    October 29, 2010 7:31 pm

    Well said. Couldn’t agree more. I remember “talking” with a repair person during the early 60’s who had made a racist statement. We didn’t “argue” per se, I just cited my feelings and some experiences, facts, and he stated his, but as he left he said, “You know, I’ve never met someone like you before.” I’m sure he had, but they hadn’t talked. Then, again, people tend to socialize with like-minded people, so those to whom he had talked most likely agreed with him. It’s a risk to differ respectfully, but I do believe dialogue can plant seeds for change.


  1. Refusing To Talk About It, contd « Cathedral Crossings

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